MANCOS As ash floated down from the smoke-filled sky, Barbara Rose kept worried eyes on the smoldering hillside above her home in the Elk Springs Ranch subdivision Saturday afternoon.
The Weber fire was advancing.
Rose and her husband were evacuated from their home in the subdivision around 7 p.m. on Friday evening. They returned to the Mancos Hill staging area at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning to watch, and wait for word on the condition of their home.
Concern filled their eyes and words.
What else are we going to do but sit and watch? Rose asked, eyes shaded against the glare of the sun, searching for hope in the thick clouds of smoke rising into the summer skies. This is our community.
For many residents of the Mancos Valley, the past four days have been filled with emotion as they were told to leave their homes and left with little information on the status of their property and belongings.
The evacuation orders began Friday evening around 4:30 p.m. and are still in affect today (Tuesday). On Friday, Law enforcement officials knocked on doors and told residents they should prepare to leave their homes. The second knock at the door brought news the evacuation notice had turned to a mandatory evacuation order. Most were told to leave immediately.
Law enforcement knocked on 110 doors in the Mancos Valley Friday and Saturday, telling people it was time to get out before the fire made a turn for the worse. Residents of roughly 350 other homes were put on alert that they may be next.
I was in town, but my boyfriend was told to leave at about 5 p.m and they wouldnt let him go back, said Weber Canyon resident Vera Stromsted.
Like all the other evacuees, the worry, fear, anxiety and emotional exhaustion was evident.
Stromsted fought back tears as she described the hollow feeling of wondering what might happen to her home.
Ive not heard anything, she said quietly. I just dont know what is going on and Im just worried about my house.
Jeanne Smith, a fifth-generation resident of Weber Canyon, called dispatch to report the fire on Friday afternoon. Smith didnt have to wait for an evacuation order to know she needed to get herself and her children out of the area.
I knew right away we needed to leave, she said. It was so close to the house.
Even Smiths 10-year-old daughter knew the situation was serious.
She said Mama, the fires coming, Smith said. We all knew it was bad.
As of Saturday night, there have been no reports of structures being destroyed.
Emergency personnel responded to Smiths call immediately and she said she knows their quick response saved her home.
They were there right away, and they slurry bombed the area three times, she said. Things are OK for now. For now.
Like others, she now has to wait and wonder. And hope for the best.
Smith and her family have not yet been allowed to return to their property and she said emotions are running high as she waits to go home.
You just have this desperate need to see it and to know things are OK, not that they are just telling you something to keep you calm, she said, the worry evident in her voice and on her face. I know everything around my house has burned, and I just want to go home.
In a public briefing at Boyle Park in Mancos Saturday evening, Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell warned area residents against trying to return to their property before evacuation orders are lifted.
We know you want to get back home and we want you to get back home, but if you try and run past the road blocks to get back to your home you will be arrested, Spruell said. Dont do that to us. Dont make us go save your life and pull people away from this fire.
Residents of Elk Springs Ranch and Elk Stream subdivision in East Canyon are still waiting for information on their homes. And watching the smoke billow thick and dark in the sky is doing nothing but igniting and fanning their fears.
Im glad to be safe and Im glad I was informed as soon as I was, but Im scared to death, said East Canyon resident Anne Meininger. Her voice shaking slightly, she said, My home is just three years old, and it is hard to think of losing it.
Fellow East Canyon residents Odin Christensen and Phyllis Lucas believe their home is still standing, because they called their landline and their answering machine picked up.
Our answering machine answered, so we believe the house is still there, Christensen said.
Or we have an indestructible answering machine, Lucas laughed, trying to bring a bit of levity to the situation.
Christensen and neighbor Keith Paydon said they know the dangers of living in the mountains. They are aware fire danger and fire preparations are part of life with the forest so close, but that knowledge and that preparation makes it no less easy to watch their homes possibly go up in smoke.
You love to live in this place, but we all knew the danger going in, Paydon said. But the reality that it could all be gone is strange.
We know we live in the fire interface, we understand what that means, he said. We know it is just stuff and we have worked that through in our heads. But it is still hard to watch this happen to your community.
The most difficult thing is knowing we have a community and some might get burned out and some may not. Who would return? What will the community look like when this is over?
Reach Kimberly Benedict at [email protected]